Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Entrepreneur of the Year

When I was in high school and down in the dumps about something, my dad said to me "it could be worse -- you could have no legs." He was right. No matter what gets my goat throughout my day, week, year, I have little reason to really complain compared to other people.

Other people like Alison Schuback for example. Alison is Inc. Magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year for 2008 and for good reason. After a catastrophic car accident, Alison was left with disabilities resulting from brain injury. Through her surgeries and rehab, Alison came up with the Invisibib -- a clear, vinyl bib for adults to wear to protect their clothing when eating. Brilliant!
The child of entrepreneurial parents, Schuback equates opportunity with self-employment. As medical bills mounted, she wanted to make money, not raise it or have others raise it for her. So in 2002 she invented a transparent, washable bib for adults with disabilities and launched a company to sell it.
Read her inspirational story here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What Mimi Saw

If you haven't checked out 2008: The Year in Pictures from The New York Times you are missing out. They're amazing. Here are two of my favorites:

Modern day Anna Karenina

I am slightly obsessed with my new book, What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn, and I'm convinced that if I hadn't bought myself a new 32" plasma television for Christmas and had a new disk of The Office to watch I'd be done with the book by now.

I read Anna Karenina a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. And this book -- a modern day Anna Karenina set in New York City -- is making me like the original even more. I may have to re-read it once I'm done with Reyn's incarnation.

If you're looking for a new book to read check this one out. It was just published in August, 2008, so there aren't any paperbacks yet in circulation but it's worth it to put it on hold at your local library.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Factory Girls by Leslie Chang

So I finished Factory Girls yesterday. I was on a mission as I have another book from the library sitting on my night stand, beckoning me.

While I really liked Factory Girls I found the two narratives of the book didn't meld together into a cohesive unit. While the book was, in fact, about China's young migrant worker women, Chang also talked at length about her own ancestors in China and her families escape from the Cultural Revolution. I thought the book could have done without so much of Chang's families past as it had extremely loose ties to the main focus of the book. It was odd to read about Min's factory hopping to better her situation and then switch to reading about how Chang's grandfather was murdered by Communists at the Fushun Mine. Not enough of a parallel to read smoothly.

In any case, I appreciated the time Chang took to really get to know the young women she wrote about. She obviously went to great lengths to keep in touch with them and even visited one of their home villages. I can see why this book made the New York Times list of the top 100 books of 2008. It is expertly reported and well written.

Check out an excerpt from the book via NPR here.

Put this one on your "to read" list. Next up: What Happened to Anna K.: A Novel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My prediction all along....

I have worked for a national magazine, an industry weekly, a large newspaper, a business website, a smaller newspaper, and a regional magazine. When people ask me the future of newspapers this is what I tell them: I predict that large newspapers like the New York Times, Boston Globe, etc. will, eventually, be online only. Small community weeklies will thrive in print. Why? People love to see their name in print, and most ordinary people wont make the news outside of their community. Parents love to see their kids names and photographs for honor roll and local sports.

There is an alternative community newspaper in Asbury, New Jersey, who has shunned the web and is thriving in spite of, or because of, it. Here's a blurb from the New York Times story:
Finally, a story about a print organization that has found a way to tame the Web and come up with a digital business approach that could serve as a model. Except that TriCityNews of Monmouth County, N.J., is prospering precisely because it aggressively ignores the Web. Its Web site has a little boilerplate about the product and lists ad rates, but nothing more. (The address is, for all the good it will do you.)

“Why would I put anything on the Web?” asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?”

What TriCityNews has going for it is the fact that they have no competition. People don't look to this paper for breaking news like they would a national newspaper or website.

I think this is the best news I've heard in months. And it validates my newspaper predictions and makes me feel smart.

Instead of layoffs.....

I was really happy when I read this article in the New York Times about what companies across the country were doing to avoid laying off their employees.
A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules. These employers are still cutting labor costs, but hanging onto the labor.

The article talked about how faculty and staff at Brandeis University are opting for a 1% pay cut to save jobs. While 1% of a salary doesn't really make a dent it could save someone else from being unemployed. This is a novel idea! Check out the article and read the comments -- quite interesting!

When I worked at the Portland Press Herald, the big bosses suggested that employees take a week of unpaid vacation to save jobs. They were actually surprised at how many people signed up. If employees believe in the company they work for and have relationships with their coworkers, I believe they are more likely to give a little than go through layoffs.

Is it better to have a job even if you have to suffer a pay cut, no holiday party or year end bonus than to be out of a job completely? I guess it depends on how much you like your job. For me, working for a small company, I'd do a lot to keep my job. As a journalist I feel fortunate to have a secure job in this market.

I think it's worth it for employers to look to other efforts to save money rather than layoffs. It shows employees that they care -- especially if they, too, take a pay cut.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Maine Public Broadcasting Network pisses off public

Due to cutbacks in public broadcasting in Maine, kids in Eastern and Northern Maine will only get to watch Sesame Street for half the year. The radio towers in both Calais and Fort Kent are also going to be taken down. No more NPR. No more public radio. No more news. No more educational programming.
“These changes will allow us to keep our local focus on news and public affairs while maintaining the cultural, science and children’s programming provided by our partners at NPR and PBS. It will also allow us to continue to develop and expand our new media capabilities and engage the communities we serve with timely and relevant content, which we believe will ultimately put us back on sound financial footing,” said Dowe.
If by "local" you mean Portland than maybe this statement makes sense. There's just so much more to Maine than the southern tip. And I'm not convinced that cutting off a majority of the state to programming really outweighs developing and expanding their new media capabilities. Public broadcasting means broadcasting for everyone. They're going to have to re-brand themselves I'm afraid.

Our tax dollars go towards public broadcasting and the communities that need it most aren't going to be getting it anymore. If this isn't a thumb to the nose of rural Maine and the Canadian Maritimes I don't know what is.

Read the press release here or listen to the story here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reasons to Love NYC #13

Because a Wasilla Phenom Is No Match for a Big-City Anchor.

I used to subscribe to New York Magazine when I lived in New York. Good subway reading material. Each year they make a list of reasons to love living in New York and my fav. this year is lucky number 13.
Whatever you thought of Katie Couric until now, you must, if you are a self-respecting American citizen, take this moment to praise her for helping to expose the awesome vacuity of Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
So true! I really think Palin thought an interview with Katie Couric was going to be about dieting and hair products. Silly Alaskan Snowshoe Hare. Just because Couric is a woman journalist doesn't mean she ain't smart.

Photo by Michael O'Neill

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weird News Wednesday

Police: Armed burglars demand man's eggbeater
Tue Dec 16, 8:40 pm ET

TAMPA, Fla.-- It really must have been a special item. According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, two men entered a man's home early Sunday and demanded his eggbeater. One suspect was holding a pistol while the other brandished a knife to the resident's neck.

Police caught the men outside the home and they are being held in Orient Road Jail. One suspect also faces a charge of aggravated assault.

Police found the eggbeater in the man's left pocket.

Information from: The Tampa Tribune,

More Headlines

Cake request for 3-year-old Hitler namesake denied

Cops follow snow tracks to nab pizza thieves

Woman ignites ex's clothes, burns storage unit

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dogs are amazing

A friend of mine took her dog Benny (pictured at left) to the emergency vet hospital near her home in Walnut Creek, California, a few days ago when Benny's legs became paralyzed. The little pooch slipped some discs and had to have surgery, leaving his owner about $10,000 in debt. Yowch. But she did what she had to do to help her furry companion. That's true love.

Whenever I hear about someone who goes above and beyond for their pet I always think about this amazing book: Merle's Door by journalist Ted Kerasote. A friend suggested the book to me and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. I've suggested it to all the dog lovers in my life. The book actually made me want to live in Wyoming, which is pretty amazing for a city girl at heart. It also made me appreciate my dog more...which is also hard for me to imagine.

If you are looking for a holiday gift for a dog lover, this is it. Here's a synopsis of the story:
Merle and Ted found each other in the Utah desert. Merle was about ten months old, surviving on his own, and looking for a human to hang his heart on. Ted was forty-one, liked to write about animals, and had been searching for a pup whom he could shape into a companion. The training went both ways. Ted showed Merle how to live around wildlife, and Merle reshaped Ted's ideas about the complexity of a dog's mind, showing him how a dog's intelligence could be expanded by allowing it to make more of its own decisions.

Acting as Merle's translator, and using Merle's life and lessons as a door into the world of dogs, Ted takes us on the journey they shared. He explores why the dog-human bond is so intense and how people and dogs communicate so readily with each other. He also uses the latest wolf research—showing that wolves treat maturing pups as partners rather than as subordinates—to explain how sharing leadership with your dog, rather than being its alpha, can help to create a healthier, more self-reliant, and better-socialized companion.

Funny, fascinating, and tender, Merle's Door is a moving love story that reveals how the partnership between dogs and humans can become far more than we have imagined.

This story breaks my heart

This story in The Boston Globe has ruined my day. I don't believe that pets are disposable, though I can sympathize with people who are coming across hard times and don't know what else to do. This is why people should think long and hard about whether or not they should adopt a pet into their lives.

I would give up a lot of other stuff before I got rid of my dog, Miles. But I'm lucky and I don't have to worry about going into foreclosure on my home and ending up in public housing or a homeless shelter. The comments on this article, which you should read, don't surprise me in their severity. People love their pets. We should be thankful that there are agencies like the MSPCA and humane societies where animals can go when their owners can't take care of them anymore. Instead of berating these people who have fallen on hard times we should channel that passion into helping these animal shelters financially.

Check with your local animal shelter this holiday season and see what you can do to help. The humane society in my town is looking for donations of blankets for their cat room. They also collect empty ink cartridges. Find out what you can do to make a difference.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Book

I did a little too much holiday partying and not enough reading this weekend but I did pick up this book from the public library and I can't wait to sink my eyes into it.

I found it on the New York Times list of the 100 top books of 2008. This is from the New Yorker:
China is in the midst of history's largest human migration, a hundred and thirty million of its citizens having left their home villages in search of urban employment. Chang, an American of Chinese descent, explores the migrant experience and the burden of being Chinese through the lives of several young women in the industrial city of Dongguan. Their Sisyphean attempts at self-reinvention are both entertaining and poignant; the most ambitious of them achieves modest success selling dubious health products, before falling under the spell of an American raw-food guru. In her diary, she reminds herself, "We can be ordinary but we must not be vulgar." Chang's fine prose and her keen sense of detail more than compensate for the occasional digression, and her book is an intimate portrait of a strange and hidden landscape, a universe of relentless motion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weird News Wednesday

NYC man spends $7,500 to fight $115 parking ticket

Monday, December 8, 2008

New York (AP) --A retired New York City man says he's spent $7,500 fighting a $115 parking ticket because he's got "nothing else to do."
More News

* Hill sources: Democrats, White House get auto deal 12.10.08
* Former Calif. Assembly speaker's son out on bail 12.10.08
* Yahoo investor urges search unit sale to Microsoft 12.10.08
* Ill. gov. heads to work with no comment on charges 12.10.08

Former electrical hardware firm vice president Simon Belsky says he was erroneously ticketed two years ago. The 63-year-old says the ticket cites his van for blocking a Brooklyn fire hydrant even though the only hydrant on the street was down the block.

The November 2006 fine has ballooned from $115 to about $200 with penalties.

Belsky was in court last week and is due back Feb. 2. He says if he wins he'll file a civil suit against the city to recover the $7,500 he's spent on legal work. He says if any compensation is awarded he'll donate it to educational programs.

More Headlines:

Woman smuggles monkey to U.S. under blouse

Woman in labor ticketed on way to hospital

German journal prints suggestive Chinese symbols

Vets fix feline's face after 'cat'-astrophe

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blogs that sock it to 'em

This past weekend my friend Nicole and I went to Best Buy to get her a new power cord for her computer. The cord ended up being over $100 to her dismay but she needed it. Her old one petered out. We pay for it and she plugs it into her computer and it melts into her outlet, rendering her computer useless. She brings it back to Best Buy and is refunded all but $30 for that Nintendo game she also bought.

Huh? She didn't buy a Nintendo game. But they thought she did because it was on her receipt. She was rung up for one without realizing it.

Without getting a refund and so mad she was seeing red, Nicole gathered her stuff and drove the hour back to Bar Harbor. The next day she placed a call to the Bangor Best Buy and the corporate headquarters to no avail. She was told she'd have to drive back to Bangor to talk to someone at that particular store. Not only did they charge her for something she clearly didn't buy, but are inconveniencing her further by making her drive 2 hours to solve a problem she didn't cause.

Furious at the lack of customer service she posted the story on her blog, Breaking Even, Inc., asking people to boycott Best Buy. You can read it here.

Be sure to scroll down and read the comments -- especially the one from Gina, Best Buy's Community Connection Manager. Nicole alerted Best Buy's customer service that she is a Maine Blogger and posted the fiasco on her blog.

After all that it was her blog that got their attention. That's saying something. Best Buy is combing the internet looking for posts that complain about their company. Perhaps if they did a better job with customer service in the first place they wouldn't have to spend time combating unfavorable blogs.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What Mimi Saw

My coworker lent me her copy of the first three episodes of MAD MEN, the A&E wonder-show. I'd never seen it but was intrigued with the premise: advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. I knew it would be filled with whiskey in the afternoons, perfectly coiffed hair, and lots of smoking. I wasn't disappointed in those respects.

But while I watched the show I became uncomfortable in the way the men characters treated the women and how they reacted. I know that women were not treated nearly as fairly as they are today in the workplace, but what made me the most sick was how they treated each other. Talking up how a woman can use her slim ankles to attract her boss so he'll sleep with her is just one example.

I'm aware that this is really how things were. And I'm surprised that it bothered me so much. I gave it back this morning and won't watch it again. It's just too sad for wives and secretaries.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Crazy Ads

My friend Kathryn gave me a subscription to BUST magazine for my birthday. So far I have gotten two issues. I read them cover to cover, which includes the ads in the back. Some of them are pretty weird.....

Would you actually use a lip balm made by this girl/guy Wong? I wouldn't. On the About section of the blog it says:
"Lips by the most crazy, most radical, most radical thing to happen in the history of lip balm ever!!! It's a playful, sexy thing for fanciful individuals."
Sexy? It's lip balm. There is only one set of lips you should use lip balm for....

The curly stench coming out from under this woman's arm is alarming. I wouldn't even call her a hippie. She's far too good looking and her hair flows in a mermaid-esque way, not in a rats nest way. This woman is NOT a dirty hippie -- false advertising!

What IS a Glitter Lime anyway? Being the super sleuth that I am I had to find out. They are, in fact, glittery limes that you wear as jewelry. They have pins, necklaces, bracelets, and belts. I'm not sure about this fruity business...they don't look that cool to me.

Carried Away....

You have to read this story -- Woman swept to sea during proposal on Oregon coast -- from the Associated Press. It's so tragic!

What Mimi Heard: Teen Birth Control

My friend Anne Ravana covered an interesting meeting the other night in Bangor about teens and birth control. Last year a middle school in Portland began doling out birth control to their students which caused quite a stir.

One good point: teens need a parent with them to get their ears pierced but their parents don't even have to know if their child gets an abortion.

Kids don't want to talk to their parents about their sex lives any more than parents want to talk about their sex life with their kids. Teens are going to have sex no matter what. Better to do it with protection than without.

Listen to Anne's story here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Holiday Horror

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is publishing photos of terrified tots on Santa's lap and I must say, it has brightened my day. As I sit giggling in my coworker can't help but mention how happy I am. Is it wrong to find hilarity in children's fear of Santa? I dare you not to laugh at the following photos. See them all here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

College Debt

I rejoiced last week when my student loans sunk below $51,000. Yep. That's right. I have an expensive brain. And it was my choice. I didn't have to go to a fancy elite private university in one of the most expensive cities in America for grad school -- but I did. I have no regrets. Ok, maybe one, IT WAS EXPENSIVE! And yup, I am paying for my brain myself. No help from Mum and Dad. I am a big girl.

Had I not gone on to grad school most of my undergraduate loans would have been paid off by now. But even though I think higher education is expensive now I don't even want to know what the price tag will be when my kids are college-bound (and no, I don't have any kids yet, which only makes the problem worse).

This article in the New York Times discusses a study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, saying that while tuition and fees for higher education increased 439% between 1982 and 2007, the median family income only increased 147%. I'm not good at math but that looks bad.
“When we come out of the recession,” Mr. Callan added, “we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive. Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.”
Yikes Mr. Callahan (Patrick M. Callahan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education) what can we do? Turns out not much. Unless, that is, you live in California which is the only state to pass the grade in the center's study.

It costs upwards of $45,000 to attend Harvard for a year. One graduate class at NYU costs over $4,000. But kids have a choice as to where they go to school. I don't think a family should have to go bankrupt so that their child can attend Boston College. Let your kids shoulder some of the burden -- maybe then they'll think twice about flunking out.

Portbrio: weird name, funny blog

A former co-worker of mine, Miss Shannon Bryan, blogs for about turning 30 in Portland. She has a witty writing style that will hook you for sure. Her most recent post resonated with me as I am using Facebook to try to get in touch with old classmates for a 13th High School Reunion (that's right 13th) this coming summer.

I dare you to read this blog and not want more. Go on. Try. The link is above so you have no reason not to.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

I just finished reading Last Night at the Lobster by Steward O'Nan. I picked it up off the shelf at the public library. I judge books by their cover. This one looked interesting. And since I had just finished the really long Barry Parris book on Audrey Hepburn, this skinny book was appealing. I finished it over the Thanksgiving holiday.

It was about Manny, the manager of the Red Lobster in suburban Connecticut. The restaurant was closing and the book chronicled the last day and night the place was open. I have often thought about writing a book about food service, as I worked in bars and restaurants in Baltimore and Boston throughout college. But I could never wrap my head around a central idea. This book had a central idea but not much character development. In fact, after reading the whole thing the only picture I had of Manny was that he was Hispanic and overweight.

It wasn't a particularly fascinating book, and I probably wouldn't have understood it if I didn't have a background in waitressing. But it did reinvigorate my idea of writing about my own experiences. It was a fast read and that was exactly what I was looking for.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Whole Foods is super, and here's why...

I stopped in Whole Foods to do a bit of grocery shopping in Portland on my way back from a weekend in Boston. Whole Foods tends to be expensive so I only get certain things there, but the experience is so zen I can't help but buy stuff. When I lived in New York City, the hustle and bustle of Manhattan would sort of melt away when I would stare at the perfectly arranged vegetables and fruit. Such organization in a chaotic place. I love their produce and they make some very delicious baklava if I do say so myself.

Today I read this article in The Boston Globe on how Whole Foods cuts their energy costs and uses renewable energy.
Whole Foods said its canola oil-powered generator - it's scheduled to be installed in January by Lifecycle Renewables Inc., of Marblehead - is just the latest in its long-standing mission to become as eco-friendly as possible. For instance, a fuel cell powers a Whole Foods store in Connecticut, and the same technology will be used at a store scheduled to open next year in Dedham. Also, a wind turbine is expected to be installed at a Whole Foods seafood facility in Gloucester. Already, most of the company's stores manage to keep about 80 percent of their waste from going to landfills.
I love when big companies practice what they preach. It makes me feel better shopping there.